It’s been a little more than a year since the unprecedented refugee crisis started provoking discord among the EU member states and fuelling a rise in xenophobia and feeding the far-right.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared as resolute as ever about the decision to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees. It has been one year since she first declared “we can do this”.
But the reality is different. On the one side, the Eurosceptic governments of the new EU member states reacted negatively to any common European policy of solidarity. Hungary, the most xenophobic among them, even called for a referendum against any EU interference in national government policies towards refugees and migrants.
On the other side, a key factor in the refugee crisis was Turkey since its border guards did nothing to stop the human traffickers in the Aegean Sea. After tough and long negotiations, the EU arrived at an agreement with Ankara. Under political and financial conditions, Turkey accepted to mobilise its guards and stop the traffickers.
One year later, the situation is just as critical as it was a year ago.
In an interview with the German Süddeutsche Zeitung published online on August 30, Merkel said she never expected the words “we can do this” to be often repeated – and mocked.
“If you asked me before if I would introduce a distinctive phrase that would be quoted many times over, I would not have thought of this phrase,” she said.
Asked about a drop in her popularity in public opinion polls following several violent attacks in July that involved one Afghan refugee and a Syrian national (both were reportedly in contact with members of Islamic State), Merkel said it was “completely understandable” that there has been “unease and concern” following the attacks.
She stressed, however, that terrorism did not arrive from abroad. “It is simply false that terrorism only first came here through refugees. It was already here, especially with the suspected terrorists that we have been monitoring.”
According to The Washington Post, Merkel and the European Commission have made little progress with efforts to convince other EU nations to share the burden of hosting the refugees who arrived in the current influx.
This means that on the first front, we still remain stuck at the same point. Some member states declare, because they want to do so, and because many populist leaders find political profits in xenophobia, that they will not accept any refugees or migrants, especially if they are Muslim.
On the second front, that of Turkey, the situation deteriorated since the attempted coup d’état.
Ankara has accused the EU of indifference and threatened to pull out of its agreement with Brussels to stem the flow of migrants from the Middle East and Africa.
In an attempt to protect the March 18 EU-Turkey agreement, two top EU politicians – European Parliament President Martin Schulz and the Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopolos – travelled to Ankara. Schulz met with Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and other top officials. Avramopoulos met with Turkey’s EU affairs minister, Ömer Celik.
It remains uncertain whether the March 18 agreement can be saved. It is more likely that new tough negotiations will start and that Turkey will press Europe on a very sensitive and dangerous affair.